Thousands of locals smiled, laughed, caught big fish, enjoyed good music and ate South Louisiana-cooked food on Saturday afternoon from beautiful Grand Isle, Louisiana.
Riley John would have had it no other way.
The Blue Boot Rodeo enjoyed a successful first ride — an event in honor of the late Riley John Bourgeois, a small local child who passed away last summer after drowning.
The event, started by Riley’s, parents Darby and Nicole Bourgeois is aimed to raise both proceeds and awareness to help keep children safe on the water.
The event was a fishing rodeo by name, but before it was over, it morphed into somewhat of a community-wide party.
By Saturday, hundreds jammed the pavilion of Sand Dollar Marina to show their support to the family, their cause and to honor the life of precious little Riley.
“We’re just so overwhelmed and filled with love,” Darby Bourgeois said. “To see all of these people, it’s just something we’re so grateful for. This community, these people, we love them so much. And to think — seeing them out here, it shows us that they love us, too. And it just means so much to Nicole and I.”
The rodeo had a little bit of everything for everyone.
Of course, there was the fishing. Starting on Friday, anglers were able to get on the water and try their luck in the Gulf’s rich waters.
Austin Cantrelle secured top angler honors in the adult division after winning both the black drum and redfish categories.
Cantrelle’s drum was 37.88-pounds. His red weighed 7.66 pounds. Austin also finished second in drum with a 36.30 catch.
Cantrelle said he caught the massive drum on Friday night, but waited until Saturday morning to weigh it.
He said on Friday, the drum actually weighed close to 40 pounds, but it dried out a little before weigh-in.
“It was a bigger fish than it weighed,” Cantrelle said.
In the children’s division, there was a five-way tie for top angler and young’ins caught several nice fish.
The quality of the fishing comes as a bit of a surprise because of stiff west winds which blew throughout the weekend.
“Usually the saying is when it’s west winds, you go home and rest, because the fish won’t be biting,” Lafourche Parish Councilman and event organizer Jerry Lafont said. “But this weekend, the people have been able to catch and weigh some pretty fish.”
And then there was the fun.
As soon as one approached the Sand Dollar Pavilion, sounds of music filled the air. By night, the Aaron Foret Band took the stage and rocked swamp pop tunes to happy party-going locals.
Away from the main stage was a children’s area full of games and activities for children.
Bourgeois said it was important to he and his family that the rodeo be a family-friendly affair.
“We wanted everyone to have something for them here,” Bourgeois said.
Grand Isle Mayor David Camardelle said he’s been to hundreds of rodeos in his time in public service on the island.
He said what the Bourgeois family was able to put forward was special.
“It’s so impressive,” Camardelle said. “They really put in a lot of time and effort and it’s impressive to see what they were able to accomplish. It’s one of the most impressive events I’ve seen here. And that’s saying a lot.”
And it was all wrapped in community support.
Bourgeois said the local support for the event was unbelievable. Up and down the pavilion were banners marking the 2019 sponsors — dozens of local companies who pitched in to launch the event off the ground.
Proceeds will go toward prevention and educating local children to keep them safe on the water.
The Blue Boot Rodeo also gave scholarships to local children last year and every, single child who bought a rodeo ticket at the event got a free life jacket … for life.
Through a partnership with Children’s Water Safety Awareness, children got their life jacket at the rodeo, but can trade them in once they outgrow it to stay safe on the water.
Event organizer Corey Hebert said that partnership was huge for the event.
“That was great,” Hebert said. “To know that our little ones are protected — not just today — but their entire childhood, it was special to us.”
And as for the future? This event isn’t going anywhere.
Hebert said discussions about next year’s rodeo are already ongoing.
Bourgeois said he’s all-in on the future and so, too, are sponsors.
“We will be here next year, the year after that and the year after that, and I could go on all day,” Bourgeois said with a laugh. “We’re not going anywhere. We’re here for a long time. Riley is looking down on us today and we just know he’s so happy and so proud.”